Over the last six months we've used 3586 kWh of electricity. We used 5838 kWh over the first six months of 2008, which is a savings of 2252 kWh or 38.6%. I think that's a pretty good savings, and I can't really say it's been missed much.
At the moment we're not using any due to a blackout. All the various rechargeable devices — including the laptop I'm typing this on — are slowly burning off their stored energy and will eventually be unpowered. This laptop will be dead within an hour, my cell phone will be dead early next week (freshly charged last night and about a five-day lifespan between charges). I have two rechargeable flashlights with hand cranks, and I estimate they'll provide about a half hour of light with a full charge — but that isn't necessary at the moment. If it reaches that point, I can definitely charge them up as needed. So theoretically they'll last, a half hour at a time, until their rechargeable batteries can no longer sustain a charge. That could be years.
At some point, warm air will displace the cold air stored in the refrigerator, making the food inside unsafe to eat. I'd guess a couple of days for that. The freezer will hang onto its cold air for maybe another day or two. There are plenty of canned goods available, enough to last for a few weeks. Beyond that things would probably get interesting.
My mind goes into survival mode whenever there's a blackout. There's never been a reason for it before — the power company has always come through. Maybe not when I would have liked, but hey.
But what if. What if.
Let's imagine there's a massive instability in the electrical grid, and it's enough to knock out power on a large scale for several weeks. What would happen? I'd guess there would be looting, probably a good bit of general unrest, and most certainly some deaths — either from the aforementioned looting and unrest or among those who were border cases anyway.
What about the rest — people who are relatively healthy yet are dependent upon electricity for basic needs like food? How many could sit down, logically think through their survival needs, and go about procuring them quietly and unnoticed versus just heading to the inevitable shelters and continuing the cycle of dependency?
When the canned goods run out, I have a gas grill and can cook fish caught from the river near the house. I've seen rabbits in the yard as well as a few deer. I have no way to kill either of those at the moment, but you'd better believe I'll find a way if that time comes. I have a few vegetables growing in the garden — though neither enough nor the right kinds for a survival scenario. I do have lots of back issues of Mother Earth News, and I'm sure I could learn (quickly!) which wild plants around here are edible.
At some point the propane would be gone, either from my using it all or someone stealing it — so cooking would be reduced to a conventional fire. And I guess if things reach that point (thinking on the order of months now) I probably couldn't rely on there being any running water or natural gas either. So it's to the river for water, which would have to be boiled to kill off any nasties lurking within.
By this time it's October, and cold weather will be moving in — bringing a whole other set of concerns and probably fresh waves of looters and marauders. The shelters are probably out of commission by now too, adding to the chaos. Winter would be difficult, a bleak Christmas and many deaths.
It's entirely possible people would band together and pool their resources. Likely, in fact. Extended family units huddling together and sharing what they have with each other versus nomadic gangs roaming the abandoned cities searching for weapons. People on watch all night, taking shifts, ready to defend and protect what's left — and others making late-night raids on makeshift cellars, smokehouses, and granaries.
We are who we are, and I think that fact would persist until the bitter end. And — as always — the fittest would survive.